Early Learning in Senegal with Tostan, Vroom, and Talking Books
Q&A with Inigo Arias about Tostan's Talking Book
Amplio is partnering with Tostan, an African-based NGO focused on community-led development, to pilot Amplio Talking Books through Tostan's Reinforcing Parental Practices (RPP) project in Médina Yoro Foulah district in the Kolda Region of Senegal. The initiative is funded by the Bezos Family Foundation and Vroom, a global program of the Bezos Family Foundation that helps parents boost their child's learning.
For the RPP pilot, Tostan distributed Talking Books to 30 communities to help engage and inform parents and caregivers about literacy and Early Child Development (ECD) best practices. Community facilitators are using the Talking Books to share Vroom tips and lessons and lead discussions during parenting classes and home visits. The ultimate goal of the pilot is to increase the use of positive ECD practices for children ages 0-6, increase understanding of children's rights, and promote literacy skills for kids.
After the pilot ends, the plan is for the devices to remain in the communities as a sustainability strategy, so that families and caregivers can continue to have access to positive parenting practices right at their fingertips.
We asked Inigo Rodriguez Arias, Tostan’s project officer, to tell us about the project.
Why Amplio Talking Books—sustainability
Amplio: Why did Tostan choose Amplio Talking Books?
Inigo: We have known Amplio for some time, but what caught our attention was Amplio's innovation of adding a rechargeable battery to the ATB, avoiding the use of regular batteries and unnecessary pollution in our partner communities. Once we learned about the rechargeable batteries, Tostan did not hesitate to purchase ATBs for our RPP program, as it will bring important results from a sustainability perspective.
Audio content: Vroom Tips, books, and Brainy Background
Amplio: What messages are on the Talking Books for the RPP program?
Inigo: We have three playlists. For playlists 1 and 2, the messages are composed of the Vroom Tips and Brainy Background (how the child's brain reacts to that specific tip), so the messages are short and neutral. For Playlist 3, Tostan recorded children's books.
We felt like the Vroom tips (and the corresponding Brainy Backgrounds) could definitely bring an added value to our RPP program, which has proven to be the case.
Amplio: Tell us more about Vroom and how it helps parents.
Inigo: Vroom is a global program of the Bezos Family Foundation. They have a lot of experience with ECD practices in the USA, and they contacted us in 2020 because they were looking to expand geographically. Once we conducted our due diligence, Tostan agreed to partner with them, as we felt like the Vroom tips (and the corresponding Brainy Backgrounds) could definitely bring an added value to our RPP program, which has proven to be the case. Tostan analyzed their Vroom tips, adapted them to the local context where we work, and translated them to the local language (Pulaar).
It was hard work, but the feedback we have received so far—from facilitators, supervisors, community members, religious guides, etc.—indicates that it paid off! We are now analyzing the final evaluation and that will definitely shed more light on this.
Editor's note: To learn more, you can download printable Vroom materials here. The content is available in 19 languages, from Arabic and Bengali to Vietnamese and Yiddish.
Positive outcomes for parents and children
Amplio: What kind of response are you seeing so far?
Inigo: After a one-week workshop to teach our supervisors and facilitators on how to use them, we deployed the Talking Books in our partner communities in late November 2022. Our field colleagues have constantly shared significant positive feedback, which has been confirmed by two missions from Tostan International.
Particularly, we have found that:
Both facilitators and participants have mastered the use of the ATB and the Vroom parenting tips. In the classes, the facilitators teach all the participants how to use the device. In the Medina Dème community, it was a participant who led the session on how to use the ATB. Caregivers are motivated and committed and have a perfect command of both the device and its content.
RPP participants are very excited about the use of ATBs—and even some community members who previously did not participate in the RPP classes are now attending and listening to the ATBs.
Participants can cite Vroom tips by heart, and they regularly practice the tips with their children. Parents have started to believe that this generation of children who have benefited from the RPP program will be better equipped for knowledge acquisition.
Better communication, attendance, and participation
Amplio: Your Talking Book pilot has had some other unexpected benefits.
Inigo: Yes. First of all, right from the beginning, the integration of this innovative tool caught everyone's eye.
Second, throughout the program, community members observed a reduction of violence against children, both at home and in schools where parents have had the opportunity to sensitize. They realized that there was not only a lack of communication between parents and children, but also between the spouses themselves. As a result, relationships between spouses, and between parents and children have undergone very positive changes because there is more interaction now. There is also more exchange between adults within and outside the household and this has greatly reduced tension.
Also, the school follow-up has gone a great leap forward. For example, in Sare Mamadou Sy, the parents designated a parent representative to make sure that everything is going well at school and report back to the whole community. As a result, elementary school enrollment has almost doubled between 2022 and 2023, from 57 students to 108.
In addition, the community has contributed 300,000 CFA (approx $500 USD) to contribute to the roofing of a classroom.
Amplio: It sounds like Tostan is considering others ways to use Talking Books in its work, such as with your highly regarded Community Empowerment Program.
Inigo: Yes, Tostan has piloted the Amplio Talking Book with our RPP program and we have witnessed how excited everyone was. Not only community participants, but also religious guides, and even our facilitators and supervisors found the ATBs to be a very efficient tool to share information. As a matter of fact, we left the ATBs with our partner communities after our facilitators and supervisors left in March and April, respectively, so that community members could continue to have access to reliable ECD information for the long-term. Furthermore, Tostan plans to carry out two follow-up missions to assess the use of the devices.
The very positive feedback received from the field and the positive impact that these devices have proven to have so far, as per the data downloaded from the ATBs, has led Tostan to plan to continue using ATBs for future rounds of RPP programs and also, eventually, for our foundational Community Empowerment program as well.
Based in Senegal, Tostan is an international non-governmental organization that empowers communities to develop and achieve their vision for the future and inspires large-scale movements leading to dignity for all. Since 1991, Tostan has delivered its holistic education programs in ten African countries. Tostan website